ST. LOUIS -- Elizabeth Kostas-Polston, Ph.D., assistant professor of nursing at Saint Louis University School of Nursing, has won a prestigious and competitive grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) to study improving detection and treatment of a type of head and neck cancer that is becoming more common.
Kostas-Polston will investigate Human Papillomavirus (HPV)-related cancer in the oropharynx, which is the part of the throat in back of the mouth.
|Elizabeth Kostas-Polston, Ph.D.|
"My goal is to research the HPV virus genome to help patients know their status before it's too late, as well as to develop treatments that will assist clinicians in preventing the development and progression of cancer," she said.
Elite Group of Nurses
Kostas-Polston, who also is a board-certified women's health nurse practitioner, is one of only 12 nurse educators from around the country to receive the three-year, $350,000 Nurse Faculty Scholar award this year. The grant is given to junior faculty who show outstanding promise as future leaders in academic nursing.
"This award is a phenomenal gift that will afford me the opportunity to focus on my research passions of women's health and human molecular genomics," said Kostas-Polston.
"HPV has reached epidemic levels in the general population, but the challenge lies in detecting and treating it. HPV-related mouth and throat cancer is especially difficult to detect as we currently have no FDA-approved screening test for persistent HPV infection of the oropharynx. By the time a lesion is detected, the cancer is often quite advanced. My research will identify strategies that may prevent both primary tumor growth and the further progression of a tumor or cancer of the oropharynx."
Kostas-Polston will research whether a protein, discovered by SLU virologist and one of her mentors, Govindaswamy Chinnadurai, Ph.D., will suppress the activities of high risk or cancer-causing strains of the HPV virus, which can lead to the development of HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer.
The challenge is that this is a slow-growing cancer that generally takes eight to 12 years for symptoms to become apparent. Unfortunately, by the time they do, the cancer is often quite advanced. Kostas-Polston will focus on developing methods to identify the problem as early as possible, surveil it, treat it and prevent the cancer from spreading.
Supported by Mentors
"In addition to the tremendous support I will receive for my research, this award will allow me to work closely with interdisciplinary mentors who will provide guidance on research," added Kostas-Polston.
"I will also receive leadership training in areas such as health care policy and academic nursing, preparing me to assume a senior leadership role in a school of nursing. In an era when rapid discoveries are occurring, these experiences will continue to prepare me to join the cadre of nurse scientist leaders conducting genomic-based research. I am excited and looking forward to becoming a part of a network of leaders in and outside of the field of nursing, and share this knowledge with my students."
Norma A. Metheny, Ph.D., R.N., associate dean of nursing research, professor and Dorothy A. Votsmier Endowed Chair at the Saint Louis University School of Nursing, and G. Chinnadurai, Ph.D., professor of molecular virology at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, will serve as Kostas-Polston's mentors.
"Dr. Kostas-Polston's research holds great promise for not only detecting, but also treating a deadly form of cancer that is on the rise," Metheny said.
"There is an effective screening tool for cervical cancer that has drastically improved outcomes for patients in the early stages. Elizabeth's research has the potential to lead to a screening tool for HPV infection of the oral pharynx; such a tool is desperately needed to improve health care outcomes for those individuals with persistent oropharyngeal HPV infection."
Research Focus of Career
Kostas-Polston is the only nurse in Missouri selected this year for the prestigious Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholars program, which is designed to advance the careers of the nation's most promising junior nurse faculty.
Last year, Kostas-Polston was selected as a fellow in the National Institute of Health's summer genetics institute. Through the National Institute of Nursing Research, she spent eight weeks in an intensive fellowship studying human molecular biology.
Kostas-Polston also received a seed grant last year from Saint Louis University Cancer Center to conduct a pilot study on the best way to screen for and treat HPV virus in the mouth. She is studying the use of various tissue types, sampling methods and assays as a potential model for the detection of persistent HPV infection of the oropharynx. Her mentors for the project are Mark Varvares, M.D., director of Saint Louis University Cancer Center; Leonard Grosso, M.D., Ph.D., professor of pathology and director of the DNA Diagnostic Laboratory; and Juan G. Gonzalez, M.D., assistant professor of pathology and medical director of anatomic pathology.
Founded in 1928, Saint Louis University School of Nursing has achieved a national reputation for its innovative and pioneering programs. Offering bachelor's, master's, and doctoral nursing programs, its faculty members are nationally recognized for their teaching, research and clinical expertise.